Every year, each fashion brand has masses of unsold merchandise. This can be assumed as a given, as not every single piece of clothing ever created by a brand can unequivocally be purchased by consumers. But where does it all go? The answer is not commonly publicized, but bits of information have slowly been trickling out. So, as for the tons of unsold merchandise, it is destroyed. Burned. Sent up the chimney. By high end brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and more. It also happens at the other end of the spectrum by brands such as Nike, Urban Outfitters, and Victoria's Secret.
Burberry, a British luxury brand brought in $3.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2017 alone. It also destroyed $36.8 million dollars of its own merchandise. H&M has burned 60 tons of new and unsold clothes since 2013. In May 2018, Richemont, the owner of the jewelry and watch brands Cartier, Piaget, and Baume & Mercier, admitted that it had destroyed about $563 million worth of watches over the past two years. Stefano Ricci, a high-end menswear label, box up the year's unsold products—from cashmere suits and silk ties to finely woven cotton shirts—and send them off on trucks to be burned.
Learning this information truly rubbed me the wrong way, as it should you. So why is all this unsold, perfectly usable, brand new merchandise being destroyed? There are two main reasons, the first being that quantitatively, there is more stuff being produced, and therefore in existence, than ever before. The second reason being that fashion cycles are so short now that new merchandise needs to be created quickly to accommodate for changing trends and new demands from consumers. A couple years ago, we were at 20 garments per person each year. Today, in the United States, an average person buys about 68 garments per year. High end brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Stefano Ricci also claim that destroying merchandise is necessary to maintain the exclusivity of the brands, along with the high prices of their products. Therefore, adding these reasons together and it is a recipe for the destruction of this unsold merchandise.
The negative effects of this clothing incineration on the environment is astronomical. Clothing is made from different fabrics and materials such as polyester and plastic. When plastic is burned it releases dangerous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, dioxins, furans and heavy metals. Polyester comes from oil, which means burning it is burning oil. These contributions to carbon emissions are affecting global warming in a negative way. Not only is burning the clothing bad for the environment, but take into consideration all the labor and materials put into making the fabric and garments. It's basically a vicious cycle of polluting the Earth.
In regard to possible solutions, there are a few. I think one could be instead of just destroying all the unsold merchandise, to upcycle them. Reuse the materials and fabrics that were never even used and make new products with them. This could happen effectively reduce the amount of waste and pollution being produced. Also, the merchandise could be sold to other retailers to be sold at a discount. On the consumer end, we need to avoid impulse buying and only buy things we absolutely need. Thrift shopping and looking to sustainable brands are also productive options.